1992 Consensus: Can It be Dispensed With? And Should It Be?
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 12, 2015
Executive Summary: If Tsai Ing-wen is elected president, she will soon be forced to cope with the 1992 Consensus, and lay her cards on the table in front of Beijing. She must consider two factors. One. Can she dispense with the 1992 Consensus? Two. Should she dispense with the 1992 Consensus?
Full Text Below:
If Tsai Ing-wen is elected president, she will soon be forced to cope with the 1992 Consensus, and lay her cards on the table in front of Beijing. She must consider two factors. One. Can she dispense with the 1992 Consensus? Two. Should she dispense with the 1992 Consensus?
Our view is that the 1992 Consensus is indispensable, and that even it could be dispensed with, it should not be dispensed with.
Dispensing with the 1992 Consensus appears to be Tsai Ing-wen's strongest move. But is is also a move that could leave her totally vulnerable. One wrong move, and all bets will be off.
First consider whether the 1992 Consensus can be dispensed with. Whether the 1992 Consensus can be dispensed with depends on whether Beijing is willing to dispense with the term "1992 Consensus". The term “1992 Consensus” appears in the 18th CCP political report. The Ma Xi summit also enshrined it as the "shared cross-Strait political foundation". Xi Jinping said “If the foundation is not secure, the earth will move and the mountains will shake”. He said that without it, “the ship of peace will capsize". Therefore how can Xi Jinping possibly back down on the 1992 Consensus? As Richard Bush noted, how can he possibly rationalize such a cross-Strait policy flip-flop to Washington, to 1.3 billion Mainland Chinese, and to the blue and green parties on Taiwan? If Xi Jinping stands firm and insists on the 1992 Consensus, how can Tsai Ing-wen possibly dispense with it?
Now consider whether Tsai Ing-wen should dispense with the 1992 Consensus. The time to lay her cards on the table is near. Lately green camp supporters have appealed to Tsai Ing-wen, citing remarks made during the Ma Xi summit that make them think Beijing will yield on the 1992 Consensus. They cite Zhang Zhijun, who said “As long as Taipei acknowledges the historical fact of the 1992 Consensus, and affirm its core meaning... ".
They argue that as long as Tsai Ing-wen acknowledges that the 1992 Consensus was an agreement, and amounts to an "historical fact", Beijing will cease insisting that the DPP use this "term from history". They think Beijing is offering Tsai Ing-wen a face-saving way out.
But as noted earlier, it is highly unlikely Xi Jinping will take back the term “1992 Consensus”. Doing so would undermine his political credibility. If Tsai Ing-wen is mistaken in her belief that Xi Jinping will back down, all will be lost. Tsai Ing-wen will then find herself mired in an even more dangerous situation. If Beijing takes back the 1992 Consensus, it will expect Tsai Ing-wen to recognize the “essence of the 1992 Consensus”. That would paint Tsai Ing-wen into an even tighter corner. If Beijing is given an inch, then takes a mile, what will Tsai be forced to do to satisfy Beijing?
For Beijing, the essence of the 1992 consensus is "opposition to Taiwan independence” and “both sides of the Strait are part of one China". For the Ma government, the essence of the 1992 Consensus is "one China, different interpretations". Is Tsai Ing-wen really prepared to dispense with the 1992 Consensus and accept its essence – "opposition to Taiwan independence” and “both sides of the Taiwan Strait are part of one China"?
Besides, the Ma government has struggled with this question for the past eight years. It has linked the 1992 Consensus to the ROC Constitution, and to “no [immeditate] reunification, no independence, and no use of force”. It has linked it to “one China, different interpretations”. The Ma government may not have persuaded authorities on the two sides to formally accept "one China, different interpretations”. But for eight years Beijing has refrained from repudiating this condition. This constitutes progress for “one China, different interpretations”. One China, different interpretations is unquestionably the key to cross-Strait relations. If Tsai Ing-wen rejects the 1992 consensus, she will lose a strategic foothold in cross-Strait relations. Beijing will then demand that she explicitly "oppose Taiwan independence” and agree that “both sides are part of one China”. She will have shot herself in the foot.
One China, different interpretations is the strategic framework by which the two sides promote peaceful cross-Strait relations. If the 1992 Consensus is jettisoned, then “one China, different interpretations” will be lost as well, to the detriment of both sides.
Before Tsai Ing-wen lays her cards out in front of Beijing, she should throw open her "black box". One. Will she jettison the 1992 Consensus? Two. Should she jettison the 1992 Consensus? Tsai Ing-wen cannot say “The reason I want to jettison the 1992 consensus, is that I want to jettison the 1992 consensus.”
The 1992 Consensus includes three points. One. It "opposes Taiwan independence”. Two. It affirms that both sides of the Strait are part of one China. Three. It affirms that both sides of the Strait agree that they are part of one China, and differ only on whether one China is the ROC or the PRC. Even if the 1992 Consensus is jettisoned, Beijing's insistence on "opposition to Taiwan independence” and “both sides of the Strait are part of one China” is going to change. Does anyone believe that absent the 1992 Consensus, Beijing will tolerate Taiwan independence? That the DPP will be allowed to promote one nation on each side?
If the 1992 Consensus is dispensed with, the two sides will lose “one China, different interpretations”. That is acceptable to Beijing. In fact, the hawks in Beijing would applaud it. After all, eliminating “one China, different interpretations” would allow Beijing to apply direct pressure on Taipei. It would paint Taiwan into an even tighter corner. Therefore, even if she intends to dispense with the term “1992 Consensus”, Tsai Ing-wen would be well advised to weigh the pros and cons first, and not act precipitously. Tsai Ing-wen must not dispense with one China, different interpretations. If anything, she should reaffirm it.
In short, Taiwan independence is something Tsai Ing-wen can never achieve. Therefore Tsai Ing-wen has no reason to advocate Taiwan independence, or oppose a constitutional one China, or refuse to recognize the 1992 Consensus. One China, different interpretations is already linked to the 1992 consensus strategic framework. In the event it is lost, reaffirming it will be well nigh impossible. Tsai Ing-wen must not dispense with the constitutional safeguard offered by “one China, different interpretations”, merely for a Taiwan independence pipe dream. As we can see, the question is not merely whether to dispense with the 1992 Consensus. The question is whether we should dispense with the 1992 Consensus.